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Activities to Teach ESL Students Subject-Verb Agreements

by Christopher Cascio

Students of the English language need more than just traditional lessons when learning about subject-verb agreement. They need activities that allow them to practice what they've learned, and to experience and evaluate subject-verb agreement used in the vernacular language of their surrounding environments. Furthermore, when teaching subject-verb agreement, try to include listening skills as well as reading skills so that your students develop a comprehensive understanding of the lesson you are teaching.

Recognition Quizzes

A simple, yet effective way to supplement traditional lessons in subject-verb agreement is to quiz a student's ability to recognize incorrect usage. For each question, provide a sentence that either uses correct subject-verb agreement or incorrect agreement, and have students label each sentence as correct or incorrect. You can either provide all of the sentences on paper and have each student work individually, or you can write each sentence on the board and then call on volunteers for answers. If you work as a group, you can then explain why each example is either correct or incorrect right then, as opposed to waiting until your students have all finished their quizzes.

Newspaper Fill-In-The-Blanks

Before class, select a newspaper article about a recent, well-known event. Copy a passage from the article, but leave spaces where most of the verbs would go. In class, discuss the event so that your students have an adequate understanding of what the article is about. Pass out the copies of the passage, and ask your students to fill in the blanks with the appropriate verbs. If you need to, you can write the infinitive forms of the verbs on the board so your students have a word bank from which to work. Afterward, you can discuss the passage sentence-by-sentence with the class.

Online Games

Online games can add variety and entertainment to your lessons, and can be used individually by students or as a group via an interactive whiteboard. For example, Harcourt School Publishers' website offers a free game about subject-verb agreement that uses the context of eight carousel horses. Each horse is split into three sections: the subject(s), the verb, and the object(s). An icon is displayed above each section that allows you to scroll through options of subjects, verbs and objects, which all correspond to different-looking sections of the horse. When you've arranged the sentence -- and horse -- parts into a working sentence, you can click the "check" button to see if your sentence is correct. If it is, you get to move on to the next horse.

Songs for Subject-Verb Agreement

Songs, like newspaper articles, are another useful resource for teaching subject-verb agreement. Play a song for the class, and then replay a short section from the song a few times over. Write the lyrics from this section on the board, and go over the sentences one-by-one to see if the subjects agree with the verbs. Try to use songs that contain complete sentences, and also try to use some songs that have incorrect subject-verb agreement. Furthermore, if you notice that a song contains a particular instance of correct agreement that gives your students trouble, suggest that they learn the song and sing along with it on their own for practice.

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